Image of illustrated peopleWelcome to our South West Provider Collaborative Family Ambassador Service

What is the Family Ambassador service?

When a child or young person needs highly specialised mental health care, it can be a difficult and confusing time for families. Family Ambassadors provide practical and emotional support for parents and carers of children who are admitted to a Tier 4 service (usually inpatient). What’s unique about our team is that we have all parented a child who has needed inpatient mental health care in the past.

We aim to provide emotional and practical support from the time your child is referred to Tier 4, until shortly after they are discharged. We can help with the following, as and when you would like us to:

  • Support you to work in partnership with the hospital team to create the best care plan for your child
  • Explain the different roles of your child’s hospital clinical team
  • Explain the different meetings and legal processes you may come across while your child is in hospital, at a day unit, or with Hospital at Home
  • Support you to prepare for these meetings, for instance thinking about questions you might ask
  • Listen to any concerns and explore ways you can work with the clinical team to resolve them
  • Provide practical support with applying for Disability Living Allowance (DLA) or Personal Independent Payments (PIP) for your child
  • Help you to work with your child’s school, for instance to apply for an Education, Health and Care (EHC) assessment or reviews
  • Support you if your child needs to move to a different type of care
  • Help you prepare for your child’s discharge, for instance thinking about next steps with education, social care, NHS, or the local authority
  • Highlight where to find all kinds of extra information and support for you as a parent or carer

Family Ambassadors don’t attend ward meetings, or replace the support and communication that you will receive from the staff caring for your child.

How does the Family Ambassador service work?

As soon as possible after your child is referred to the Tier 4 service, we will contact you to ask if you would like us to support you through the assessment. If your child is then admitted to a Tier 4 service, you will have an allocated Family Ambassador (usually the Family Ambassador who is most familiar with that hospital or service). However, you may be supported by more than one of the team while your child is being cared for in the service. There are two Family Ambassadors in the South West and we work flexibly to ensure there is support available to you throughout the week: Nicky Heaton and Katrina Hutchins. We work closely with the Family Ambassadors based in the Oxford and surrounding areas. We are supported by our Regional Family Ambassador, Lara Barnish.

You will be able to meet your Family Ambassador via MS Teams, by phone and, in some instances, in person. Once your Family Ambassador has been allocated to you, you will be given their phone number and email so you can also contact them by text or email.

Meet the team

Nicky Heaton

Nicky worked in customer service, sales and logistics but left full time employment to support her youngest daughter. Her daughter was diagnosed with Autism during her primary school years and later with an Anxiety Disorder, and demand avoidance (PDA). They had been involved with CAMHS for many years however, due to her daughter’s diagnoses and complex behaviour this culminated in an admission to a Tier 4 unit 240 miles from home. She was discharged after 4 months to a specialist residential school placement.

Nicky has navigated her way through interventions with Social Services, CAMHS, education and health professionals for the Tier 4 placement which, along with the residential placement, was out of county.

When Nicky returned to work, she wanted to use her experience to support others so started in the NHS as an administrator in primary mental health, then as a Medical Secretary for a Consultant Psychiatrist in adult mental health before moving to the same post within CAMHS and has now joined the team of Family Ambassadors, to support families through their journeys.

Katrina Hutchins

Katrina has worked in Bristol for the NHS for over 20 years as a Physiotherapist.  She has worked as a highly specialist Physiotherapist in Rheumatology and Advanced Practice Physiotherapist in Emergency Medicine.  She is taking a break from that role to support her family and other parents experiencing the practical and emotional challenges when their child needs inpatient CAMHS services. 

At the end of 2022 her eldest daughter was diagnosed with an eating disorder, which resulted in a two-month admission to an Acute hospital for refeeding followed by a four-month admission to a Tier 4 Unit out of area near London.  Her daughter is now back at home being supported by her family and CAMHS to re-enter her school in her GCSE year.

Katrina has a wealth of experience negotiating the medical world. She has two other younger children including an 8-year-old boy who has an ASD diagnosis.  Katrina has personal experience of working with Autism, Neurodiversity and Eating Disorders and has worked successfully with both the primary and secondary schools for reasonable adaptations to facilitate her children remaining successfully in mainstream education.

Confidentiality - what will be recorded and shared about our meetings?

We will make brief notes about our contact with you, such as the date and the nature of support offered. This information will be shared between the Family Ambassadors so that support offered to families is consistent. The hospital team caring for your child will know you are supported by our service and will be kept up to date with a brief summary of the information and support we have offered. We will agree with you what will be shared during your appointments.

You can speak to us in confidence. Nothing you tell us will be shared outside the Family Ambassador service without your consent, apart from the brief note sent to the clinical team mentioned above. There is one exception: where there are significant concerns about the welfare or safety of a member of the family being supported, these will need to be shared, confidentially, with a member of the hospital or safeguarding team. Wherever possible this will be discussed with you in advance.

What if my child isn’t admitted into a Tier 4 CAMHS service?

Family Ambassadors are part of the Tier 4 services. About two thirds of children referred to Tier 4 services will need an admission. If your child isn’t admitted to a Tier 4 service, then support will be continued via the community-based teams.

What happens after my child is discharged?

We will work with you to prepare for the ending of the Family Ambassador contact. Feedback about our service is very much appreciated at any time but especially after discharge, where we invite you to share your views on the service.

How to contact us

You can contact us via email and a member of the team will get back to you during office hours (Monday-Fridays, excluding Bank Holidays).

The South West Tier 4 services currently include:

  • Riverside Inpatient Unit (Bristol)
  • Wessex House Inpatient Unit (Somerset)
  • Plym Bridge Inpatient Unit (Plymouth)
  • Sowenna Inpatient Unit (Cornwall)

They are all General Adolescent CAMHS Units (GAUs).